Category Archives: perspective

Theatre Review: “Brimful of Asha” Brings You Home to the Theatre

Ravi Jain and Asha Jain in "A Brimful of Asha"

Ravi Jain and Asha Jain in “A Brimful of Asha”

Toronto’s Ravi Jain is at home in the theatre, and with A Brimful of Asha, at Soulpepper till Saturday during its national tour, he and his mom, Asha, make everyone feel at home, greeting each audience member with a fresh samosa and a “Thank you for coming!” Are they getting into character or just being themselves? “I’m not an actor,” begins Asha. What they present, with more reality than The Bachelor, is “not a play” but “a dispute” over the attempt to arrange Ravi’s marriage.

Asha and Ravi give contrasting perspectives on what happened when Ravi, at age 27, went to his parents’ homeland India to give an acting workshop in 2007 and they decided to come along to find him a bride. On each side of the generational and cultural divide, the question seems so clear cut whether it is for the parents to choose when and to whom their child will be married. But there are points to be made on both sides. As Apu says on the Simpsons, “Mother, come on, you know that 1 in 25 arranged marriages ends in divorce.”

Asha wears a vibrant fuchsia sari; her son wears a traditional Indian shirt with jeans and sneakers. No costume designer is credited, as the two are surely wearing their own clothes. The simple, homey set is a dining table and two chairs on a rug-covered platform, framed by a curtain in the centre of which is a wide-screen monitor where Jain periodically refers to family photos, maps, and video clips (set designer, Julie Fox; lighting and video designer, Beth Kates).

Ravi Jain is the director of this show he created with his mother primarily through improvisation, and he is an experienced, thoroughly trained actor and award-winning director (2012 Pauline McGibbon Award; founding artistic director of Why Not Theatre; an artist in residence at Soulpepper Theatre Company; inaugural artistic director in residence at The Theatre Centre), but while it is sometimes evident that Ravi is stepping in to keep a scene on track, it is untrained Asha, a self-described “dedicated housewife and abused mother”, who steals scene after scene. This is the role Asha was born to play.

Although the duo has performed this show many times in many cities since its premiere at Tarragon in 2012, it does not feel over-rehearsed, in fact it feels perpetually spontaneous, and it probably is a little different every night. The show is primarily humorous but with an undercurrent of tension always ready to pull you in. There is little by way of overt action and the simple production looks easy, an occasionally heated conversation as mother and son sit at the table drinking tea, but the story they tell is a rollercoaster ride, a contentious and intimate conversation to which they welcome us as witnesses. Asha very much seems to be enjoying being herself, and yet the two of them are going over a lot of emotionally charged memories and it must be a taxing experience to relive such painful and personal conflict in front of a packed audience night after night.

As early as age five, Ravi regularly entertained the “extended family” that was his community by mimicking India’s legendary film actor Amitabh Bachchan. Asha teases that, by pursuing a life in the theatre, Ravi is not allowing himself to move on from the first of life’s four stages, establishing a “real” profession, onto the next stage of finding a wife. The debate is real, but so is the love. At least in the context of the Jain family, the intent of arranged marriage is not to dictate but to ensure a secure and happy future for the child. Fittingly, the name Asha means “hope”.

 

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Filed under cross cultural understanding, documentary, family and relationships, perspective, theatre, theatre reviews, tradition

CBC Radio Interview About My Play Father Hero Traitor Son

Father Hero Traitor Son
“Would you strike your father?” “Would you hang your son?” Photo by Elizabeth Sawatzky
From the CBC website:
“The Fundy Fringe Festival Opened This Week”

Evan Andrew Mackay is a playwright and actor who’s home from Toronto to stage his new play Father Hero, Traitor Son.

http://www.cbc.ca/informationmorningsaintjohn/2013/08/23/the-fundy-fringe-festival-opened-this-week/

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One Final Blog Post About My New Play

Father Hero Traitor Son is opening on Wednesday, so I probably won’t do another blog post before then. By the end of the month, I hope to resume regular blogging on Good Evaning.

http://fatherherotraitorson.wordpress.com/2013/08/15/a-piece-of-history-on-stage/

Father Hero Traitor Son poster by Tim Maloney

 

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Filed under ethics and morality, family and relationships, perspective, theatre, Uncategorized, writing

My New Play: Father Hero Traitor Son

New play, new blog!

The play and the blog are in progress. Please, read the blog, tolerate the self-promotion, and get ready to see the play at the Fundy Fringe Festival in Saint John, NB, August 21 to 25!

http://fatherherotraitorson.wordpress.com/about/

Fundy Fringe Festival 2013

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Filed under cross cultural understanding, ethics and morality, family and relationships, perspective, theatre, tradition, writing

Half-Irish Blues

I grew up believing I was Scottish (which is a bit daft because I was born and raised in Canada, as were both sides of my family for three generations) but when I was 30-something (probably years of age) my maternal grandmother was ranting about my Irish heritage. What does this have to do with me? “Didn’t anyone ever tell you, Evan? The ancestors of both of your grandmothers were from Ireland.”

Proud to Be Irish, flag

Suddenly a deep dark family secret came to light: I was not simply, as I’d always been told, a descendent of pale redheaded people who tended sheep and subsisted on oats and whisky in the northern part of the island of Britain, I was every bit as much a descendent of pale redheaded people who tended sheep and subsisted on potatoes and whiskey in the northern part of the island of Ireland! In an instant, my self-image was tossed in a raging wind of uncertainty!

In my bewilderment and rage, I went ’round the pub and drowned my sorrows in beer after beer. At closing time, as the bartender was rolling me out the door he said, “What are you, Irish?” And suddenly I understood. I’m a double Celt half-breed.

irish yoga

Now, instead of being woefully ignorant of Scottish Gaelic, my burden is doubled by my ignorance of Irish Gaelic. I’ll have to fill my sporran with potatoes. And it won’t be easy playing the bagpipes with one arm and the bodhrán with the other. Half the time I would otherwise have devoted to trying to comprehend Robbie Burns’ Address to a Haggis must henceforth be devoted to trying to fathom James Joyce’s Ulysses. And now my options seem to be limited in religious matters, much as in Canadian politics, to only two possibilities: the orange or the green. But what is presented as black and white is all grey to me.

Only sometimes can I distinguish whether an accent is Irish or Scottish, or whether a foxy redhead is a bonnie lassie or a pretty Colleen. And I’m less expert in matters of Mc and Mac than people have come to expect of me.

Fortunately, there is an easy way out of my dilemma. Based on my appearance, people often ask if I’m German. Since I speak more German than Gaelic anyway, henceforth, I should just reply, “Ja”.

Am I Scottish or Irish? Nein!

Scottish or Irish? Nein!

Whatever you consider yourself to be, Happy Saint Patrick’s Day to you!

Please also read my brief and rather silly St Patrick’s Day article http://www.postcity.com/Eat-Shop-Do/Do/March-2013/Seven-things-all-Torontonians-should-know-about-Ireland-for-St-Patricks-Day/

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Who Needs International Women’s Day?

Who needs International Women’s Day? Didn’t Mary Wollstonecraft and Sojourner Truth take care of all that two centuries ago? “Women can vote. What more do they want?” Hmm…

Malala Yousafzai, 14-year-old girl shot for speaking out about her right to education, in 2012

Malala Yousafzai, 14-year-old girl shot for speaking out about her right to education, in 2012. She can’t be stopped; but she can be supported.

If you are unaware of the continuing practices of female genital mutilation, the forbidding of education for females, acid attacks and ironically-named “honour killings”, your ignorance must be blissful.

And if you think these are all problems of faraway places, not here in safe and civilized Canada, you must be avoiding mainstream news even more vigorously than I do.

Perhaps you are unmoved by the frequency with which Canadian Aboriginal women are murdered or go missing, but don’t imagine such crimes are limited to one group or community.

Statistics Canada declares, “violence against women in Canada continues to be a persistent and ongoing problem.”

Who needs International Women’s Day? We all do. Learn the facts, and let women have their day.

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Filed under cross cultural understanding, ethics and morality, family and relationships, Optimism & Inspiration, perspective, politics, tradition, Uncategorized

Black History and You

Valentine's Day and Black History Month, lonely and white

Along with the USA, Canada and the UK celebrate Black History Month. If you are one of those who would ask rhetorically “What does that have to do with me?”, please consider the following question.

What do you and I have in common with Dr Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Dick Gregory, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglas, Jack Johnson, Louis Armstrong, Josephine Baker, Nelson Mandela, Maya Angelou, Kunta Kinte, Ricky Gervais, Richard Dawkins, Muhammad, Moses, Jesus, Madonna, Adolf Hitler, Kim Jong-eun, L’il Kim, Kim Kardashian and the Ku Klux Klan?

We all came from Africa. (And if you deny that fact, enjoy your 4,000-year-old flat Earth. Careful you don’t fall off the edge.)

Familiar faces from African-American history

Familiar Faces from African-American History, Caitlin Tamony bbc.co_.uk_

You may hear it claimed that “Black History Month” is vitally significant, especially for a continent not yet free of ignorance-based tensions and hostilities. You may hear that Black History Month has outlived its usefulness — “We all saw Roots on TV.” You may hear that Black History Month is self-defeating—it should all be just History. As Morgan Freeman said, “I don’t want a black history month. Black history is American history.”

As with so many debates, there is truth to be found on all sides. Only the ignorant claim the ignorance is all behind us now. And history should, indeed, be history for one and for all. If only there were no ignorance amongst historians, publishers, educators and media.

painting by Charles T. Webber in the Cincinnati Art Museum_underground_railroad

The Underground Railroad, Charles T. Webber, Cincinnati Art Museum

So let it be History Month, and let’s all look into a bit of history—look up something you know nothing about, or investigate whether certain “facts” you like to quote are as solid as you have always believed. Just notice the limitations of the sources you check. Who wrote what you read and what are the foundations of their claims?

Regardless of how direct or indirect you consider your African heritage to be, why not take a moment or two this month to do yourself and the world a favour: learn something new about our collective past.

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Solitude and Scribbling in My Writing Cave

Snowy stairs up to my writing cave

A Writing Cave in Winter

Weeks have piled up into months since I escaped the necessary evil that is Toronto. Here in New Brunswick, looking down from the window of my second-story writing cave onto the snows and thaws of the tree-walled lawn where I learned to ride a bicycle, indeed where I first learned to mumble, chatter, yell and sing in my mother tongue, I consider that the number of hours I spend each day in writing, reading, corresponding and editing is greater than the number of people I have spoken with in person more than once since I arrived here in mid-December. I have crossed paths with more deer and rodents than bipeds.

View of my snowy acre from the window of my second-story writing cave

My Writing Cave: A Room of One’s Own With a View

This semi-exile is a boon to my productivity (and piano playing), but the menu of stimuli to which I am exposed—though excellent—is sparse. In the neighbourhood I left in Toronto, I could walk in less than 10 minutes to my choice of half a dozen live music venues (including, importantly, first-rate jazz on an almost daily basis); a dozen Japanese or Korean restaurants, three each of Indian, Lebanese, Thai and Vietnamese; three new and used bookstores and a library to which I can have delivered any of a million books, DVDs and CDs; as well as swim in a public pool, go to my favourite repertory cinema, visit the dentist, do all banking, grocery shopping and other errands; and, most significant for me, meet with groups of native speakers of French, Spanish, Portuguese, American Sign Language, Korean or Japanese; or step onto the subway for access to ten times as many possibilities. Taking my New Brunswick writing cave as a point of departure, a 10 hour drive would scarcely bring the majority of such options within reach.

Fortunately, this is an era which enables me to make do with online substitutions for a number of these amenities, such as certain manifestations of language practice and films. However, such substitutions are not the same thing as being there, in that place where there is every day too much to do, where to partake of one golden opportunity causes you to miss out on several others.

All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy. Hitting huge log with heavy axe

All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy. All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy. All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy. (I did split this sucker!)

And yet, my writing cave lets me work with loud music on at 03h00; it lets me leap out of bed before dawn or crawl out at noon, depending on what the muse whispers to me in the morning or demanded of me the night before. The writing cave leaves me space — indoors and out (and psychologically as well as physically) — to start every day by doing my thumpy, jumpy, kicky taekwondo forms, or to contend with insomnia by pounding it out on the heavy bag in the garage below. It shows me the moon and the sun through its skylight; its windows like big-screen TVs show me snowfall, windstorms or chirping birds and meandering deer over a sun-glazed acre of land which is mine to neglect, maintain, or run and roll around on. Below my window, I can chop wood from a wind-felled tree, soak off the wholesome grime in my claw-foot bathtub, and then sit with my father by his fire discussing how the Romans could have saved their empire if only they had listened to us, or learn how to speak toddler-ese when my niece drops by, until a bottle of the world’s finest wine has breathed long enough and we gather to feast on local, organic, fair trade, free-run moose.

The Writer at Work. Splitting a log

The Writer at Work

The world-famous city I was born in vs. the agreeably overlooked town I grew up in. Like moving and resting, waking and sleeping, getting dirty and bathing, an excess of one makes you wish for the other. Plainly, (unless I find a home* some other where), I must divide my months between the polis and the outpost.

*Home is where I hang my hat. Home is where I hang around. Home is where I hang out. Home is where I let it all hang out. Home is where I hang my head. Home is where I hang myself. Home is where I feel that I am myself, and that is not a place, it is a state of mind that comes more frequently and stays longer in some places than in others. “Wherever you go, there you are.”

My Snowy Acre of Tree-Walled Lawn

My Snowy Acre

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Oh, Mousie, Not Your Best-Laid Scheme. A Burns’ Day Tale, Sad But True

Too a Mouse

On Lifting up My Toilet Seat Last Sunday Morning, January, 2013

Wee, sleeket, soggy, floatin’ beastie,
Panic’s no more in thy breastie.
Thou shouldn’a jump’d in there sae hasty,
Wi’out floatation!
Had I but heard, I’d come an’ save thee,
From wet damnation!

I’m truly sorry human plumbing,
Unsuited to your way of coming,
Did lead to your most sad succumbing,
— that hinge-side gap —
and brought you to an end so numbing,
Last words? “Oh, crap!”

Thy attic fam’ly, now, in ruin;
They must be wond’rin what you’re doin’!
An’ no one, now, to feed the sma’ ones
Wi’ nibbles thieved.
An’ January’s snows keep blowin.
Thou shouldst ha’ lived!

If caref’ler foresight you did give,
What then? poor beastie, thou wouldst live!
Instead, kin scan the will for your bequest.
Or did you nothing leave?
Och, they’ll be pissed!

Thou walked the loo, (that’s for my wast),
An’ in you fell. Mistake? Your last.
An’ in the bowl you paddled fast;
Must ha’ been hell.
No splash! You scrambled till you passed.
Tough luck. Oh well.

Thou wee-bit heap o’fur an’ bubble,
Thy end, clearly, more sad than noble.
Now thou’s done in, for a’ thy trouble,
O mouse, so bold.
Now Mousie Jr’s strife is double;
Mouse Sr’s cold!

But Mousie, thou need na complain,
You’ll ne’er make that misstep again.
The best lid-schemes for toilets, then,
Are not mouse-proof.
But now you’re past your grief an’ pain,
Thou careless goof.

Still, thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me!
For now, each time I go to pee,
Or poo, I backward cast my e’e,
Ere dropping rear!
Faced forward, whyles I canna see,
I guess, an’ fear!

Robert Burns

Robert Burns

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Filed under life not human, literature, perspective, tradition, writing

If Life Had a Point, Would I Get Stabbed?

It’s getting to be that time of life when I’m increasingly unlikely to be discovered as a child prodigy. I’ve come to terms (all too easily) with the fact that I will never be the world’s greatest [whatever]. I couldn’t even be the greatest [whatever] in town, unless I go to a very small town. Hmm…

The Galaxy Song by Eric Idle, from Monty Python's "The Meaning of Life"

The Galaxy Song by Eric Idle, from Monty Python’s “The Meaning of Life”

So what’s the point of it all? I’m not carrying the torch, or walking in anyone’s footsteps, or passing on my genes (well, I suppose it’s never too late for that. I don’t even have to be conscious to pull that off. Indeed, I wouldn’t even have to be alive.) Nothing I do is going to alter history and change the world. Except, as Gandhi said, I can be the change. And that may sum me up: a bit of change. Loose change in the pocket of the universe.

But that’s all any of us—from Aristotle to ZZ Top—can ever be. And I’m fine with that. Which is why I am a registered organ donor.

So whether your shortcoming is that you think you’re a big deal or that you feel like a meaningless speck,

consider the scale of the universe and the words of astrophysicist Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson: “the universe is in us”. Join him in recognizing “my atoms came from those stars”.

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